Murder in the Telephone Exchange by June Wright (1948)

Maggie Byrnes is working as a telephonist at Melbourne Central when she and her friend Gerda “Mac” MacIntyre find a disagreeable colleague battered to death in the restroom. Mac seems to be hiding something from the police during their first interview and so Maggie also decides against full disclosure, her first, but by no means last, mistake.

She wishes to help the police but loyalty to friends keeps clouding her judgment but as we see her thoughts it becomes more understandable as she is sometimes flippant in the face of danger before remembering the horror that has caused. She is also working the “dog watch” night shift a disorientating enough experience without choosing to move through the corridors of the eight-floor building, sometimes as cat and sometimes as mouse.

There is a similarity here with Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise in that we see inside a particular working environment and how those involved in the case must continue working alongside each other despite their mutual suspicions. The routine of the work in the Exchange is interesting but would have made more sense to contemporary readers as they would have understood the mechanics of making and receiving a call from the outside and so what happens inside would join the dots for them. The detail in all this comes from June Wright’s personal experience as a “hello girl”.

I was pleased that I spotted a key piece of misdirection about half-way through, although this was partly informed by some remembrance from reviews of Wright’s work. I also had an idea about one character’s reasons for being somewhere which I didn’t really follow up on but which came from another recent read. I’m beginning to see more and more that the pieces of the GAD puzzle are finite but can be rearranged by writers to suit their tastes.

Overall I can’t give this a whole hearted recommendation but please have a look at this review from Kate at crossexaminingcrime who will be speaking about Wright’s work at the upcoming Bodies from the Library conference.












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